Author: Sarah Perez

Facebook launches new tools for Group admins, including free customer service

Facebook’s Groups are one of the social network’s most popular products, with more than 1.4 billion monthly users across tens of millions of active groups. Today, the company is rolling out a series of new features aimed at those who create and manage these groups, including customer support with answers and help provided by a real person, not a machine or automated responses. Admins are also getting a dedicated online education portal and more tools to manage their groups’ posts.

Unfortunately, the customer support service is not available to all groups at this time.

Facebook instead is beginning a pilot program for admin support that’s only available to a limited number of group admins on iOS and Android at this time, initially in English and Spanish.

“We spend a lot of time speaking with admins, and we listen to their feedback quite a lot,” explains Alex Deve, Product Management Director for Groups. “And the first thing we heard from them – very loud and clear – is that they want to be able to reach out to us and get a very quick response,” he says.

The free service will allow admins to send any issues they have to Facebook, and the company will respond within one business day. This is made possible by the additional hires the company made to expand its moderation team, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg had previously announced, Deve notes.

The idea with the admin support isn’t just about helping admins out directly – it’s also about figuring out what their needs are, what troubles they have, and what features they want. This will help Facebook roll out new features for admins that they’ll find useful, but it also ties into another new product being announced today: an online educational center for admins.

At facebook.com/community, Facebook has collected best practices, tutorials, product demos, and case studies based on the experiences and expertise from the admin community, and is sharing it with others in the form of audio and video content. There are tips on things like growing groups, setting the rules, building a team, using group tools, managing conflicts, and more.

“Going forward, the support work is going to feed into this. [Facebook will learn] what other themes are very common that people want to hear about from other admins. So we’ll create more videos in the future,” says Deve.

Additionally, Facebook is rolling out two new admins tools today, created in response to user feedback.

The first will allow admins and moderators to notify a member whose post gets pulled down which group rule they broke that caused its removal. They’ll also be able to collaborate with other admins and moderators by adding notes in an activity log when they remove a post.

The other new feature, “pre-approved members,” will allow admins and moderators to select members whose content will automatically be approved whenever they post. This will save admins time by not having to moderate content from trusted people.

Groups have been a particular interest for Facebook in recent months, especially as the trend towards private networking and sharing continues to grow. At the company’s F8 Developer Conference in May, Facebook announced other features that will make Groups a more prominent part of the Facebook experience, as a result. This includes a new tab for Groups, where your groups are better organized and you can find others to join – similar to Facebook’s now-defunct standalone Groups app. And it introduced a new Groups plugin that admins could use on their websites or emails to solicit people to join their group.

All the new Groups features are rolling out starting today to about 20 percent of supported users, and will continue to roll out to the rest of the world in the weeks ahead. The online educational portal is live now in English, but will launch in Spanish in June.

Instagram officially launches re-sharing of posts to Stories

No, it’s not a “regram” option. Sorry!  But today, Instagram is officially launching a new feature that will allow users to re-share someone’s Instagram post with their friends via Instagram Stories – something it confirmed was in testing earlier this year. The idea with the new re-sharing option is to give users a way to add their own commentary or react to a post, without repurposing it as their own – the way a regram (reposting to feed) feature would have permitted.

For example, you can now re-share something you saw posted by a brand or influencer on Instagram that you like, or add your own comments on top of a funny meme, or even tag a friend on a post you want them to see.

In fact, tagging friends through Instagram comments had become so common on the social network over the years, that it rolled out a way to send posts via Direct Messaging as an alternative. The new re-sharing option now gives users a third way to get their friends’ attention.

Re-sharing can only be done from public Instagram accounts, Instagram says. If you want to run a public account, but don’t want people re-sharing your posts, you can opt to turn off the new feature in the app’s settings.

To share an Instagram feed post to your Story, you first tap the paper airplane icon – the same as you tap today to send a post through direct messaging. However, you’ll now see a new option to create a Story as well. Tap this to see the feed post appear as a sticker of sorts with a customized background, reading for re-sharing.

You can also rotate, scale or move the sticker around, and tap on it to explore other styles. Of course, you can add your own commentary, scribbles and other decorations on top of this “sticker,” as you can today when sharing a photo to an Instagram Story.

When posted, the Story will display the original poster’s username, which others can tap on to head back to the original post.

That potential source of traffic may encourage some Instagram users to create posts specifically designed for this new sharing format, given it could increase their account’s exposure to a wider audience.

The company may not be done rolling out new features for Stories yet – continual improvement of this popular product is one way Instagram (and parent Facebook) is able to challenge Snapchat, which first popularized the Story format.

As Twitter users Jane Manchun Wong spotted, Instagram is also testing a floating Story Tray that will minimize when you scroll. That would give Stories more prominence on the network – though not everyone is thrilled with their takeover.

Instagram says the feature is live today on Android and will roll out to iOS in the coming week.

* Yes, I’m confused about this example image Instagram sent, too. 

Tinder’s upcoming location-based feature seems a bit creepy

Do you want random Tinder users to see where you’ve been? Uh, no? Well, great news: an upcoming Tinder feature called Places will allow for just that. According to screenshots detailing Tinder Places uncovered by The Verge, the dating app is developing a feature that tracks your location via its app, then shows potential matches where you’ve been. The idea is to allow people to come across their real-life missed connections, similar to how the dating app Happn works today.

There are some caveats about the new feature. For starters, this is something Tinder has in testing – the way it works at launch could be different. Also, the feature can be shut off, the documentation says – a toggle in the app’s settings let you turn it on or off at any time. And we’ve learned that, thankfully, this feature will be opt-in.

However, that’s a decision you should approach with caution.

Above: Places documentation, image credit: The Verge

The way Tinder has implemented the location feature is concerning. Instead of allowing users to explicitly “check in” to a given place – like their favorite coffee shop or a cool restaurant or bar – Tinder continuously tracks users’ location with its app, then makes a determination about which of your “places” it will show to your potential matches.

The company, at least, thought to remove things like doctors, dentists, banks, and the place where you live or work from this automated location-sharing option. It also won’t add a place to your list until after you’ve left – though it doesn’t say how long it waits to do so. (The documentation hedges on the timeframe by saying things like “we’ll wait a while” or “it’ll take some time.”)

While Tinder says your recent places will expire after 28 days – meaning, other Tinder users won’t be able to see where you’ve been past that point – the company does appear to be keeping a wider history of users’ location and travels for itself. The documentation explains that Tinder will use this Places information in order to improve the product – by learning which places lead to matches, which users are always deleting, and it will use the data to improve its ability to show users better matches.

Above: Tinder Places, image credit: The Verge

In other words, Tinder will be tracking you, as well as giving potential matches the ability to narrow down the parts of the city you frequent – right down to your daily habits. That means potential matches could figure our things like which bar you regularly hit up for after-work drinks, where you work out, what your favorite breakfast spot is, and so on.

The advantage to daters gaining access to this information about other Tinder users is fairly limited. After all, simply hitting up the same Starbucks in the morning isn’t any sort of signal about someone’s potential as a love match.

But it does put a lot more data into the hands of potential stalkers, while offering Tinder access to a massive treasure trove of location data – the selling of which, even anonymized and in aggregate, could be a big business. Even if Tinder doesn’t aim to sell the data directly, it clearly paves the way for the company to show more specific location-based ads in its product.

It also lets Tinder group users into cohorts regarding their interests – without explicitly asking for that data, like Facebook does. For example, Tinder would know if someone shows up at church every week, or regularly takes their dog to a dog park – things it could use to classify users and match them accordingly.

That’s useful to some extent, in a handful of cases – but just because you have a dog, doesn’t mean you need to date someone with a dog, too. In the end, it’s less useful to have “things” in common with people – it’s more useful to share the same values, experts say. And those values are more important than the initial attraction (which fades as the hormones wear off), and more important than a set of common interests – those can be negotiated in a relationship.

In the end, there’s far more for Tinder to gain here, than users to gain from the Places feature – especially with the downside regarding its potential for harassment or stalking.

One serious concern was whether Places would be opt out or opt in – the documentation The Verge found didn’t make this clear. However, we’re relieved to hear (from people familiar with product) that Places is an opt-in experience.

That this feature’s launch is nearly is not a surprise. Tinder already said it was working on rolling out a new location feature this year during its earnings calls, something it described as having the potential to bring in a new audience and “expand the definition of dating.” That could imply the company wants to make Places more of a social networking, or friend-finding feature, rather than just an option for finding dates.

Watch Facebook’s F8 2018 Day 2 keynote right here

Facebook is hosting its F8 developer conference in San Jose this week. Yesterday, it kicked off with a keynote from CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who addressed the company’s latest scandals, including Cambridge Analytica, election meddling, and fake news. But he also spoke of his commitment to Facebook’s mission of connecting the world, and his optimism for the future. The company then introduced a number of new products across its platform, as well as on Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus.

We saw things like Facebook Dating, Instagram video calling, Oculus Go’s launch, a new Messenger, VR memories, 3D Photos, and more.

Today, live coverage of F8 2018’s Day 2 begins again at 10 AM PT, 1 PM ET, Wednesday May 2.

On the schedule is a second, less lengthy keynote address.

Typically the Day 2 keynote focuses more on research, like machine learning technology, and other forward-looking projects and developments. We may hear from Facebook’s research divisions and perhaps the Telecom Infra Project. (Details on the keynote’s speakers haven’t yet been provided, so these are just guesses for now.)

The full F8 schedule is here.

The keynote will stream to Facebook’s F8 website, though yesterday it experienced a lot of glitches. Even the F8 website was down for a while. If that happens again, you can just follow along the news via TC’s Twitter account or here on the site.

 

F8 2018 Day 2 Keynote

Facebook's CTO Mike Schroepfer is kicking-off day two of #F8. Watch it live here.

Posted by Facebook for Developers on Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Facebook wants to fix the ‘Happy Birthday’ spam problem by using Stories

Have you ever turned off Facebook’s notifications or even deleted the app entirely on your birthday, simply to avoid the non-stop barrage of alerts that someone had posted “Happy Birthday!” to your timeline? A fix may be in the works, as it turns out. An update to how Facebook will handle birthday notifications was given a brief mention during today’s keynote address at the company’s F8 developer conference, hinting at a new birthday feature yet to come.

The feature wasn’t one of Facebook’s demos, and the company is declining to share more details about its launch at this time.

However, the general idea is that Facebook could leverage the Stories format to create “birthday packages” that are sent once to users at the end of the day, instead of having users post messages to the friends’ timelines.

This was mentioned briefly alongside other ideas for how Stories will be expanded – like the upcoming launch of collaborative Stories, and a Stories option that allows video clipping, for example.

“And then birthdays,” added Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox in his keynote address. “Instead of all of us writing on your wall to wish you a ‘happy birthday,’ how about we pull together, over the course of the day, a photo and video reel, which you then receive as a package at the end, saying, ‘happy birthday.'”

It’s unclear when this feature will actually arrive, but we understand Facebook isn’t commenting publicly because the product team is still working on what this new “happy birthday” feature will look like.

It’s not likely to prevent anyone from writing on a friend’s timeline, we’d imagine – but it could be a change to how Facebook prompts you to remember your friend’s or family member’s birthday. (Today, Facebook prompts you to post to their timeline, but that could be tweaked to encourage users to leave messages via Stories instead.)

This isn’t the first time Facebook has attempted to fix the age-old Happy Birthday spam problem. It has also done things like group birthday posts together, and it has consistently tried to get people to use video with things like Birthday Cam in 2016,  and later personalized but automated video messages. 

It has also attempted to bundle birthday greetings into recap videos, which is the experience that sounds most similar to what Facebook is now teasing with this Happy Birthday Stories feature. Perhaps, the recap video will make a comeback, but be presented not within your News Feed or Timeline, but as a personalized Story built for you.

Of course, if you really don’t like the birthday spam, you could just remove your birthday information from your Facebook profile ahead of the actual day.

In-app purchases are coming to Facebook’s Instant Games on Android and the web

Facebook is adding support for in-app purchases to its Instant Games platform, the company announced during a session on gaming at its F8 developer conference this afternoon. The feature will allow game developers to add another form of monetization beyond advertising to their games on select platforms, but not on iOS.

Instead, support for in-app purchases will be available to Instant Games on Android and on Facebook.com on the web.

First launched in 2016, Facebook opened up Instant Games to all developers last month. The platform allows developers to build mobile-friendly games using HTML5 that work across both Facebook and Messenger. The idea is to give game developers access to another sizable platform for their work, in addition to the existing app stores run by Apple and Google.

Facebook has had in-app purchases on its roadmap for Instant Games for some time, and began testing the feature with select developers around six months ago.

Similar to the app stores, the revenue share model for Instant Games is 70/30 on Facebook.com. However, on mobile, the games will follow the in-app billing terms from each platform, the company notes. That means purchases made in games running on Android devices, the 30 percent revenue share will apply after the standard mobile platform revenue share — aka Google’s own 70/30 cut.

That’s not ideal, of course. And all the hands in the pie may lead to game developers pricing their in-app purchases higher, as a result.

Facebook seems to acknowledge this concern in its blog post announcement, saying: “Our primary goal is to build [in-app purchases] in a way so that our developer partners can sustain and grow, and we’ll continue to evaluate rev/share with that goal in mind.”

Facebook wouldn’t confirm if or when support for in-app purchases is coming to iOS.

In addition to helping developers generate revenue outside of using ads in their games, in-app purchases in games could prove beneficial to Facebook as well. The company’s payment revenue has dwindled over the years, with things like Messenger payments never really seeing significant attention. Plus, Facebook made it possible for third-parties like PayPal to operate over Messenger, which signaled its disinterest in the payments space in general.

In-app purchases in games turns things around, a bit.

The submission process for in-app purchases will open up to developers on May 7, allowing them to implement the monetization features on Android and the web. In the meantime, Facebook is offering documentation about the feature here.

Instagram’s ‘Explore’ section is getting a makeover

Instagram is getting a revamped “Explore” section to improve discovery, the company announced this morning during the keynote address at Facebook’s F8 developer conference. The update will better organize its suggestions into topical channels based on your own interests and tastes, so you can more easily find the type of content you’re looking for.

Before, you would scroll down on the Explore page to find groups of photos and videos tied to a particular theme you may  like. In the updated Explore section, however, you’ll instead find buttons in a scrollable, horizontal row across the top of the page – which gets you to the topic you want to browse more quickly.

The company offered a preview of the new look for Explore on stage, showing how the page would now work.

As you’re browsing the page and land on one of the buttons – for example, “Animals” – you’ll see a set of related hashtags underneath – like “#dogsofinstagram” or “thedailykitten,” in the case of this example.

Instagram had launched the ability to follow hashtags in December, and says the feature has become a popular way people interact with Instagram content. More than 100 million people around the world now follow hashtags the company said.

In addition, millions use Explore to find content, so it makes sense to further develop this section to connect people to hashtags they’ll like.

Under the hood, the new Explore section is powered by artificial intelligence, which is being augmented with content classification and curation signals from the Instagram community to make the experience more personalized.

But as users happen upon content that’s from more public figures and accounts, they may not always act appropriately – leaving harassing or bullying messages.

Instagram says it’s addressing this with the launch of a new “bullying filter” which will hide language that’s used to harass and upset people. This filter is based on machine learning technology, and expands on Instagram’s earlier efforts with comment filtering technology.

The new Explore will be rolling out over the coming weeks.